Thursday, September 25, 2008

September garden and Marcia Sward

September is a poignant month. The garden is lush, the food delicious, but there are signs it is about to end. Now is a good time to collect your burlap if you are traditional, or some old blankets or sheets, against that day when a light frost is predicted over night. Throwing them over tomato, pepper or eggplant plants may preserve your crop for a few more weeks, perhaps a month.

We used to have our first frosts in November, but the past two years they have been in October. First frosts tend to occur at the full moon, when the moon's gravity pulls the covering atmosphere away from the earth. The October 2008 full moon is only a couple of weeks away. Today's beauty is fragile.

Malabar spinach and basil are not likely to make it through a light frost. Now is the time to freeze spinach and pesto. If you calculate it right, you can pick the eggplant, tomatoes and peppers just before the first killing frost, and have a frenzy of freezing at that time.

Now is also the time to prepare for winter crops. I sowed some more lettuce seed outdoors today. My lettuce has not been flourishing in recent months, but some is trying. The arugula is wonderful, so we have good salads. Identifying the volunteers in the garden is challenging. Is that green that looks like collards the real thing? I've been coddling some collards, kale, pak choi, and Chinese cabbage in my greenhouse window to supplement that which does not come up on its own. The Chinese cabbage in the cold frame is looking promising for January stir fries.

The poignancy of September seems special this year for two reasons. My own life is joyful and full of good harvests, but we all know what is to come. (Medieval schedules would have me now in December, but I live in the 20th century, so I'm still in September.) A contemporary, Marcia Sward, died on Sunday, making me especially aware of the temporary nature of life. In June she was happily at her daughter-in-law's graduation from medical school, but on July 4 she began her bout with what would turn out to be terminal cancer.

A close friend emailed that she "never wept, complained or looked back. She concentrated on enjoying what life was left and the friends around her." Marcia was the first female executive director of the (national) Mathematical Association of America, and I saw her only twice a year. Yet it was important to me to talk to her over the phone while she was still alive.

She told me happily that her first grandchild will be born this winter. Recently she has been director of a regional Audubon Society. Forgive me if this doesn't seem appropriate in a gardening email, but to me this week, it's relevant. Marcia Sward lived a good life, as my tomatoes and peppers are doing now. Marcia Sward reminds us to cherish life while we have it, in the garden and elsewhere.


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